The Problem of Prolonging Life

As my mother and I wrestled with the idea of turning off my father’s pacemaker, I learned about the moral, medical, and legal obstacles to letting someone die.

By Katy Butler, originally published in The Atlantic

A nurse stands next to an 83-year-old man in a permanently vegetative state. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

In the fall of 2006, I found myself in a labyrinth without a map.

For five years, I’d been shuttling between my home in California and my parents’ house in Connecticut as a member of the “rollaboard generation”–the 24 million middle-aged sons and daughters who help care for aging and ailing parents and often, but never often enough, roll their suitcases on and off planes.

Things had been hard for my parents, who were then in their eighties and entering the last chapter of their long and vigorous lives. But I had no idea how hard they were about to get.

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